NASA offers opportunity to consult with area businessesWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
A group of NASA researchers will visit Toledo this summer to help regional businesses solve research and development roadblocks.
Toledo is only the second city to participate in what’s known as the “NASA Roadshow,” a three-year federal initiative in which research scientists and engineers with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) partner with regional businesses to share technologies with the private sector.
Toledo’s event will be held June 12 at the University of Toledo. Applications can be found at prism-nasa.fluidreview.com. Businesses must be located in Northwest Ohio or Southeast Michigan. The deadline to apply has been extended to 8 a.m. April 14.
The Toledo Community Foundation has been cultivating a relationship with NASA, which led to the opportunity, said President and CEO Keith Burwell.
“The foundation looks for opportunities that will help our community and when NASA did this first roadshow over in Youngstown with just four companies, we quickly suggested Toledo would be a great place to come do that next and they agreed,” Burwell said. “It’s a great asset for our region. There’s just a wide array of technologies that are at the disposal of the companies in Toledo.”
Local economic development agencies will make the first cuts and then NASA will make the final selections, Burwell said. Selected companies will be notified in mid-May.
“NASA is mandated by the federal government that any technology or patent that is not national security-related, they should find a way to put it in the private sector,” Burwell said. “We are getting the first crack of a treasure chest of NASA technologies that come companies may be able to take to market or put to use.”
The project is based out of NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, but the Toledo visit could pull NASA engineers and researchers from NASA sites across the country, depending on the expertise required by the Toledo companies chosen, Burwell said.
Companies chosen will be established businesses not startups, Burwell said.
“Our No. 1 priority is going to make good use of engineers coming from around the country,” Burwell said. “They want a company that has some sustainability. They want to know it has legs.”
Four companies received assistance in Youngstown in December and the plan is for about Toledo area 12 companies to meet with NASA, said Ford Weber, president and CEO at Lucas County Economic Development Corporation.
“The idea is to take companies that have been working on developing a technology — whether a new product or a process for making a product — but they have hit an impediment that is hindering their ability to develop that new technology,” Weber said. “There will be an exchange of information with NASA and if NASA thinks they have some expertise in that subject matter, they will meet with that company and give them roughly six hours of free consultation services with a few of their top engineers and scientists. So it’s really a great opportunity to get good research and development assistance at no cost to the company.”
The assistance offered will be confidential, said Weber, adding that companies might be surprised how many varied industries NASA technology can assist.
“NASA has a list of technologies where they feel their strengths are and that’s been sent out to the companies so they can take a look at it and see if they are a good fit for it, but it’s really amazing how broad NASA’s expertise is,” Weber said. “A lot of companies might think, ‘Well what we do doesn’t have anything to do with the space program,’ but don’t ever assume that because there are so many technologies that come together to do the space program.”
The amount of time each company will get with NASA will depend on the problem needing to be solved, Burwell said.
“Of the four companies they worked with in Youngstown, they were able to solve one before lunch. The company walked out and said, ‘Wow, it was just that easy,’” Burwell said.
Another company raved that the meeting saved them six months of research and development effort, Weber said.
This won’t be the first time NASA has worked with a local company. NASA engineers have been working with First Solar for about six months on a panel recycling project, Burwell said.
“That was our first attempt to see how this relationship would work. The reason we’re here now is because that went so well,” Burwell said. “They were just thrilled.”
One Youngstown company that participated was Catacel Corp. of Ravenna, which makes catalytic materials used in fuel cells, hydrogen plants and other applications.
President and founder Bill Whittenberger told The Business Journal in Youngstown, that company executives talked with NASA about computational fluid dynamics models.
“It’s been less than successful but we know that NASA guys do that kind of stuff all the time. So we just played 40 questions with them,” Whittenberger said. “They actually helped a lot in a couple of hours.”
Weber said his organization is excited about the opportunity for local businesses to exchange information with NASA.
“We’re just really excited about this opportunity to partner with the federal government on this initiative at no cost to our local businesses,” Weber said. “It really is in our sweet spot because our organization works with the businesses that are already here and helps them grow and develop and that’s what this program is all about.”
The organizations involved in bringing the NASA Roadshow to Toledo include the Lucas County Economic Development Corporation, Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, University of Toledo, Toledo Community Foundation, Rocket Ventures, Manufacturer’s Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET), Northwest Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Ohio Development Services Agency and Strong Cities, Strong Communities.
Strong Cities, Strong Communities is a federal initiative that launched in June 2011 aimed at creating new partnerships between federal agencies and localities to spark economic development in communities that have faced significant long-term economic challenges, according to its website.
Tags: Ford Weber, Glenn Research Center, Lucas County Economic Development Corporation, MAGNET, Manufacturer’s Advocacy and Growth Network, NASA, NASA Roadshow, Northwest Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Ohio Development Services Agency and Strong Cities Strong Communities, Rocket Ventures, Toledo Community Foundation, Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, University of Toledo